The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

December 12, 2013

WVU-Gonzaga among best ever, despite loss

MORGANTOWN — OK, maybe the West Virginia University men’s basketball team should have won Tuesday night’s game at the Coliseum.

That 80-76 loss aside, I thought it was one of the most exciting, well-played contests this viewer has seen at WVU in a long time.

The Mountaineers (6-4) certainly had opportunities to defeat Gonzaga (9-1), which is ranked No. 20 in The AP poll and No. 16 in the USA Today coaches poll.

A friend who’s a long-time follower of basketball, his favorite sport, already has predicted Gonzaga may well reach the NCAA Final Four and perhaps win the championship.

West Virginia held its own against the visitors virtually from start to finish before a highly vocal crowd of 9,350 on a snowy, bitterly cold night.

The Mountaineers led by as many as 10 points a time or two, showed a 35-30 edge at halftime, and still were in front by four points or so with about four minutes left in the game.

But Gonzaga, led by 7-foot-1, 296-pound Przemek Karnowski, pulled ahead on a hot run down the stretch and survived.

It had to be heartbreaking to WVU coach Bob Huggins and his gallant players, but also to those supportive fans, including a fine turnout of WVU students on finals week, for a weeknight game with a brutal start of 9 p.m.

Had it been 7 p.m. and perhaps the weather better, a capacity crowd of 14,000 may have attended. Who knows?

But a college must agree to play games at times dictated by television networks — even when some times are not really considerate of fans who have jobs to wake up for in the morning.

With that said, however, those attending the WVU-Gonzaga contest certainly got their money’s worth. If they didn’t enjoy that game, they probably don’t like good basketball. Hopefully, there will be more men’s games as exciting — and winnable — during the 2013-14 season.

Karnowski, a sophomore who is from Poland, sank 6 of 11 field goal attempts, and 7 of 8 free throws, for a total of 19 points. He also pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds and played 32 minutes.

It is also worthy to point out that the longest performer on the court was called for just one personal foul.

The visiting Zags, who now are 3-0 against WVU, had three scorers in addition to its pace-setter with double-digits.

Guard Eron Harris tallied a game-high 23 points to lead West Virginia. Juwan Staten chipped in 17 points and Terry Henderson 15.

Mark Few, Gonzaga’s head coach, felt like his team was lucky to get out of town with the win. He said, “It was a heck of a game. I think both teams fought and played with a lot of emotion.

“West Virginia is a much improved team, especially the way they shot the ball.”

Coach Huggins said, “We’re going to be all right. We’re going to be good. We just can’t keep losing games when they are winnable, and this is a winnable game.”

West Virginia returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against old rival Marshall (4-6) in the Charleston Civic Center.

The WVU women (7-1) play Marshall women at 1 p.m.

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